Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Magic of the North...In Greenland

 Aren't the Alps beautiful?  It's amazing how pristine they are and that we will travel half way round the  world just to get a look at them.  In the summer time, most folks go to the beach, but I take the opportunity to go north and see the things that I wouldn't go see in the wintertime.  I take that chance to do something that I wouldn't normally do.  I love mountains, I love unique experiences, I love the outdoors, and I love a great view.

Anyway, so Alps Smalps, welcome to Nanortalik, Greenland.  The mountains that look like the Alps up here are called the Skyscrapers.  They're a glorious bunch of spires and peaks to look at, and if you're younger than me, they are a fabulous place to go climbing.  Nanortalik is Greenland's most southerly town, with 650 or so residents spread over five different settlements that make up the town as a whole.  The town is surrounded by the Skyscrapers and fjords that would rival the ones in Norway.  The name Nanortalik means "place of polar bears" so it is immediately clear that you may have something to talk about when you get home.  Truth is that polar bears do occasionally pass through town, especially in the summer, so you may just get some pictures of nature up close and personal.

From Nanortalik you can take a glacier cruise to see the edge of the world famous ice sheet that the global warming people keep talking about.  Large portions of Greenland are continuously covered in ice.  It's just that it's quite taxing to go and look at the northern parts, because it is so cold and barren, leaving your best option for those areas being a flight see.  Here at the end it's more like taking a cruise in Alaska, but you're in the exotic country of Greenland.


Why would someone go to Greenland?  It's cold.  It's snowy.  It's rocky and barren.  You might just be surprised.  In the summer it doesn't get up to 80 or 90 degrees.  It does hover in the mid to upper 40's, but there's sun all night long.  I love that factor about northern countries, and I cannot recommend it enough.  You'll never forget midnight sun and white nights.  It is something that cannot be imitated.  You have to experience it for yourself.

But, I digress.  If you haven't heard in your lifetime that Eric the Red founded a Viking settlement in south Greenland then you haven't been paying attention.  In the area around Nanortalik, there are ruins to visit from the old Viking settlements.  It's true that you can also see these things in Newfoundland, but here you get that midnight sun to go along with them.  There are also some great museums in the towns and cities of Greenland that can answer most of your questions about how and why the Vikings came to this land.

Here's one for you.  You can go and learn how to be a musher.  They have an apprenticeship program in the area that you can sign up for.  You will get to spend some extensive time dog sledding as you actually learn about the mode of travel that has now become a northern sport.

Greenland is the world's largest island nation, still technically a part of Denmark, so it's no surprise that water activities are wildly popular with both the locals and tourists.  Sea kayaking is a popular activity.  It lets you get up close and personal with glaciers and icebergs.  Greenland is nearly as prominent for float by icebergs as the iceberg alley of Newfoundland, and it's great to get up close and personal with them.  It's hard to fathom how large an iceberg really is until you get right up and see one.  Then you realize why the Titanic didn't stand a chance.  Here in Greenland there are some of the oldest glaciers in the world and they house the world's purest water.  There is a company that bottles that water now, but a bottle of water in the states from Greenland will cost you about $50.  It's probably best to try it out in Greenland.  But water sports are not limited to kayaks.  For one thing, several companies operate cruises to and around Greenland.  For many, it's easier to let someone else do the navigating as long as they still get to see all the cool stuff.  Sailing is also something that is gaining popularity in Greenland.  It's for heartier souls than mine, but it's very cool.  Fishing excursions are popular with tourists and locals alike.

Cruises will show you many aspects of the life of northern animals.  There are a ton of places around the world to go on a whale watch, but when you do it in Greenland, you see so much more.  This is the end of the road for whales and other migratory sea mammals in the summer, and you will see some wonderful things like Orcas, seals, and walruses in addition to all those whales.  It's something that you won't normally see if you stay along the coast of New England.

And then there's the bit about how it's called Greenland.  I've heard a million different tales about how Iceland and Greenland got their names, but I've never heard the facts of the matter.  What I can tell you is that the south of Greenland gets green and it's gorgeous.  The hiking is wonderful, especially with the long nights.  Some people go hiking at night, just to say that they did it.  When you get home and show your friends the pictures, they won't believe that it's night time.

So, I've told you about the stunning little town of Nanortalik, with it's adorable Hotel Kap Farvel (hotel cape farewell), and a lot of interesting things that you can do there.  I did mention that several of the things you can do elsewhere.  So, besides the fact that the sun is up all night, why is this an Adventure for Anyone?

Well, I brought it up because of the sheep farms.  I'm not joking.  Around the world there are many places that you can take a vacation whilst living and working on a farm.  There are organizations that only cater to people wanting to go on farm vacations.  It's true.  Greenland offers a fabulous opportunity for tourists to stay and help out on sheep farms.  You get to stay at the farm and earn your keep.  It's something that I highly recommend for some important reasons.  If you would like to stay on a farm, there are really only a couple of places on Earth that I would actually recommend for that, and Greenland is one of them.  The hosts are great.  The experience is wonderful.  You get to see what it's like to live in that northern climate with livestock.  You will learn a lot.  You will get to meet some gracious people and some really interesting breeds of sheep.  It's a ranch experience that you won't soon forget.

There are many wonderful things about Greenland.  There's the culture, the people, the farms, the glaciers, the mountains, the hiking, the icebergs, the Viking history, the fjords, the animals, the adventure and the view.  There are so many reasons to visit this fabulous country that why would you take a pass?  It's one of the most exotic places you'll ever go.  It's got personality that can barely be contained.  It's also a country in flux, because soon it may be independent, which gives you the chance to visit now and say that you visited it when it still belonged to Denmark.  But, for all the reasons to visit this amazing country with surprises that just keep on coming, I think that the one that still strikes me most are the endless nights of summer.  And that's why I think that one of the greatest adventures for anyone is to spend some time on a working sheep ranch in the middle of summer when the view is the best, the nature is at it's finest, and the sheep are happy and free of their winter bonds.

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